Wedding etiquette – because you need to know!

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

As soon as you start planning your wedding you’ll find people who are eager to tell you what they consider the right way, and the wrong way, to go about things. Do you have to follow the rules? That’s up to you – but it’s probably best to be aware of them before your get into the discussions with family and friends. We can’t cover all the finer points in this post but hopefully it will serve as a useful starting point.

Engagement announcements

The father of the bride should publish an engagement announcement in the newspaper as follows… The engagement is announced between Ryan, elder son of Mr and Mrs Paul Mason of Nailsea, North Somerset, and Melanie, only daughter of Mr and Mrs Graham Hudson of Cullompton, Devon. Just change the names, as required of course.

Walking down the aisle

It is traditional at British weddings for the bride to stand to the right of her father (or whoever else is giving her away). They are at the head of the procession, followed by the bridesmaids and pageboys. There is a new trend for sending the bridesmaids in first. This actually works very
well because it ramps up the sense of anticipation amongst the guests and gives you a few more moments alone with your Dad before making your grand entrance.

Dresses for the Bridesmaids

The traditional role of the Bridesmaids was to act as decoys and ward off jealous suitors and evil spirits. They wore exactly the same dresses as the bride to confuse those who might cause trouble! In modern times this idea has become less popular and bridesmaid today tend to be dressed the same – but different from the bride. The last thing you want to do is confuse the groom!

Access all areas for kids?

Children are usually included in the ceremony and the celebrations, unless it’s a very formal or evening based affair. If you are not inviting children simply don’t put their names on the invitation. If you’re inviting an 18-year old who lives at home, they should receive their own invitation.


Strictly speaking, veils are inappropriate for second marriages or brides who are pregnant. Having said that, things are more relaxed these days so it’s a case of what works best with your dress and forget the symbolism!

Photo by  Alvin Mahmudov  on  Unsplash

The first dance

Daunting as it may be, the bride and groom are traditionally supposed to start the dancing with just the two of them doing a twirl. You are well advised to have a dance in mind and to put in a little practice beforehand! Etiquette also dictates the groom should dance with both mothers, while the bride should dance with both fathers.

What’s more, the mother of the bride should dance with the father of the groom and vice versa. The best man should also step out with the chief bridesmaid too!

Giving Favours

The giving of wedding favours is a way of saying thank you to your guests; a small token of your appreciation for their sharing in your special day. Guests would traditionally receive a small bag or box containing five sugared almonds. These were supposed to represent the five blessings of Health, Wealth, Happiness, Long Life and Fertility. Now, of course, your wedding favours can be almost anything to reflect your own taste, budget and personality.

The Gift List

Wedding gifts originated from the notion of a bride price or dowry that was paid to the bride's family. In ancient times it would probably include land, animals and money. Today it is customary for guests to arrive bearing gifts. It is normal practice for a couple to send a list of presents from which to choose – many large retailers offer a wedding gift service to make this easier for all concerned.

Invitation Etiquette

Traditionally, invitations should be sent six to eight weeks before the wedding, giving guests plenty of time to clear their schedules and make the necessary arrangements. Most couples also send out save-the-date cards, six to eight months ahead of the big day. If an invitation hasn’t been received it’s the height of rudeness to ask for one, and the same goes for asking about a plus one. Some traditional rules shouldn’t be broken!

Rings and things

The bride should not wear any rings, apart from the engagement ring, which should be worn on the right hand to leave the wedding ring finger free. The engagement ring goes back on the left hand after the ceremony.  However, many brides now choose to not wear their engagement ring at all during the ceremony but wear it afterwards for their reception.

The giving of Keepsakes

It is traditional to give gifts to the mums. Bouquets presented by the groom or best man during their speeches work well, as do jewellery or even hand-written letters thanking them for their help with the preparations.

Order of the Garter

This is a very old tradition – in the Middle Ages, the groomsmen would rush at the new bride to take her garters as a prize. This strange practice still continues but in a modified form. The bride is supposed to wear a garter, to be removed towards the end of the reception by the groom, who will then toss the garter to the unmarried male guests. This is performed after the tossing of the bouquet, in which the bride tosses her bouquet over her shoulder to be caught by the unwed female guests.

According to superstition, the lady who catches the bouquet and the man who catches the garter will be the next man and woman among those in attendance to be married (though perhaps not to each other). The ceremony often continues with the man who catches the garter obliged to place it on the leg of the lady who caught the bouquet. Traditionally, the pair is obliged to share the next dance.

Morning Coats

In years gone by weddings took place in the morning and gentlemen wore their morning attire, hence the tradition of wearing a ‘morning suit’. These days “black tie” is the norm, meaning a white dress shirt with a black bow tie, an evening waistcoat or cummerbund, and a dinner jacket. 

Order of service

A typical order of service for a church wedding will run as follows:

  • Entrance of the Bride
  • Welcome and Introduction by the celebrant
  • Hymn
  • Readings
  • Sermon
  • Exchange of Marriage Vows
  • Prayers and a Hymn
  • The Signing of the Register
  • The Final Blessing
  • Exit

However, in a civil ceremony the hymns and sometimes readings will be omitted.

Order of Speeches

The first wedding speech is given by the father, ending with a toast to the bride and groom. The groom then thanks the bride’s parents and the guests, before making a toast to the bridesmaids. Finally, the best man gives his speech.

Table Plans

Wedding etiquette dictates that the top table should be, from the left: Chief bridesmaid, groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother, best man. However, if parents have remarried and there are stepmothers and stepfathers involved, this can prove a nightmare! Sometimes it’s best to try a non-traditional plan with two or three ‘top’ tables with parents hosting their own tables, leaving the bride and groom to sit with their friends.


The traditional role of the Ushers is to make sure guests are in the right place at the right time. They also set the tone as they are the first faces guests see – so they need to be polite and cheerful, but firm.

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Let them eat Cake

The traditional wedding cake is a grandiose, tiered, white-frosted fruitcake. These days, however, anything goes! You could have a cheese wedding cake, a macaroon tower, a brownie stack, a cupcake board, a dessert table or a doughnut pyramid – whatever you fancy…

The Honeymoon

Etiquette says the groom should organise the honeymoon as a surprise for his bride.  However, some brides don’t like surprises and would rather have a say in the destination. So, you decide between you how to approach this one.

That’s just for starters…

So, that’s a lot to be thinking about – and there are more traditions, superstitions and rituals besides. Our experienced team are always available to answer any questions
and to guide you through this minefield – all you have to do is ask!

John McCarthyComment